Rebuilding the Northeast: Four Ways Nigeria should spend the World Bank’s $2 billion loan
The World Bank has said it will give up to $2.1 billion in interest free loans (for the first ten years) to aid the Nigerian government to rebuild its northeast region that has been battered by the Boko Haram sect. The announcement, which comes after President Buhari’s meeting with representatives of the bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the WHO in Washington, is good news for the region which has felt neglected even prior to the insurgency. However, the application of the funds is crucial especially in a country that has struggled to maximise the effectiveness of development aid. Nigeria receives millions in aid annually, but it struggles to translate this into real development. The World Bank and the Nigerian government have to make sure the same does not happen with the new grant. The most effective way to achieve this is to target specific projects that will have a multiplier effect in the economy of the region. In the northeast, the crucial areas are housing, healthcare, education, and women and youth empowerment.
With Boko Haram intentionally razing villages and sacking communities rendering hundreds of thousands homeless, housing tops the list of priorities. The Nigerian presidency thinks so too. It has made resettling of over a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region a priority. Beyond that, the northeast has a longstanding housing problem that predates the insurgency and is part of the massive housing deficit Nigeria faces. Nigeria’s housing sector needs around $300 billion of investment over the next 30 years to meet the estimated demand of an estimated 17 million homes. The World Bank funding offers an opportunity to start meeting that demand from the Northeast. Housing also goes hand in hand with basic infrastructure such as potable water, electricity and good roads. The Boko Haram insurgency exposed just how lacking this infrastructure already is in the region. Any rebuilding must include their provision in order to be effective.
Also in dire need of intervention is the region’s healthcare system. Apart from the 15 thousand people that have lost their lives to the Boko Haram menace, many more, most of them in the Northeast, have sustained varying levels of injury. The paucity of health facilities combined with the deliberate destruction of existing health infrastructure by the terrorists means many in the region lack access to medical attention. When combined with the kidnapped women and children who have been rescued, IDPs who have been living in unhealthy conditions, and the general population, and the need for medical services keeps stacking up. Building a strong healthcare system and infrastructure is the only way to address these challenges. Like housing, healthcare is also a carry-over problem from pre-Boko Haram days and a challenge that cuts across all parts of the country. In 2010, the WHO ranked Nigeria’s healthcare system 197 out of 200, describing its National Health System as among the weakest in the world. With the World Bank funding the Northeast should transform into a model region for healthcare delivery and coverage.
Next to housing and health care is education. The poor quality of education, abysmal standard of learning infrastructure and high level of illiteracy in the region is one of the primary reasons for the growth of Boko Haram. The crisis has worsened the situation. The sect’s targeting of schools has damaged the few available and at the same time increased parental anxiety about sending children to school in unsafe conditions. Not only should the Nigerian government use part of the funds to build quality schools and learning facilities, it must also embark on a campaign to put all within the learning age in the classroom as well as create adult learning opportunities for the elderly. To achieve this, it must make learning attractive and worthwhile for all while offering skills and vocational training that will have an immediate positive impact on the people of the region. What is taught is equally as important given the extensive anti-education propaganda of the islamist sect. The government has a lot of work to do to discourage ethno-religious intolerance, extremism and violence and to promote national unity and patriotism.
Women and Youth Empowerment
Closely tied to education is the empowerment of women and youth through small and medium entreprises. While there is a general need for jobs and employment opportunities across the whole population, the government must also focus on women and youths who are the most unemployed and yet the most crucial to the success of the region’s socio-economic development. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, women’s unemployment in the north stands at 36.9 percent, 12 percentage points higher than the national average. In three states of the region — Bauchi, Yobe and Gombe — the rate soars above 40 percent. Youth unemployment follows the same trajectory and is most probably higher than the national estimate of 29.6 percent. The insurgency has only made matters worse. These indices make up the main reason the north-east remains the most impoverished region in the country. Empowering these segments of the population through grants, trainings and creating enabling environments for small and medium scale ventures in farming, retail or service delivery, will not only help them rebuild their lives but also create an economic transformation.
Rebuilding the north-east will be a long and arduous process, but if adequate attention is paid to these sectors the result could be a model of post-conflict development for the other parts of the country and the continent which face the same challenges.
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